Gran Duo

by Magnus Lindberg

Empty sheet

Magnus Lindberg

Gran Duo

Boosey & Hawkes


Lindberg has composed Gran Duo as a dialogue between the two orchestral families of wind and brass, each with their respective musical material. Their individual characters, initially equating to the poetic stereotypes of 'masculine' and 'feminine', become progressively blurred and androgynised during the course of the work. The larger sound masses give way to chamber music-style subgroupings and instrumental solos which emerge from the texture. Compositionally the medium is particularly challenging in terms of instrumentation - as Lindberg notes "if no-one is playing, nothing is heard" - so the illusion of sustained sound has to be created without recourse to strings. Similarly, clear illusion of sustained sound has to be created without recourse to strings. Similarly, clear attack and accentuation has to be carefully sculpted, as there is no percussion to help articulation. The models for this highly distinctive scoring are classic works by Stravinsky, and Gran Duo could form an attractive companion to the Symphonies of Wind Instruments.

© Boosey & Hawkes, 2000

Orchestral music forms the backbone of Magnus Lindberg's oeuvre. This especially applies to the music written after Kraft (1983-1985), the first important milestone of Lindberg's output, his 'Rite of Spring' within which are concentrated all the experiences and visions of a talented 27-year old iconoclast. Kraft was still in many senses of the word an 'impossible' piece, with an ensemble of seven soloists moving around the performance space, playing instruments collected from scrapyards. During the fifteen years that have followed the première of Kraft, Lindberg has forged, through pieces like Kinetics (1988), Aura (1993-1994), Arena (1994-1995), Feria (1997) and Fresco (1997), a more idiomatic, yet very personal, language that enables him to write bold, dramatic pieces which are inventive and modern and, at the same time, respect the characteristics of his favourite instrument, the orchestra. Lindberg is one of those few composers who, at the turn of the century, seem capable of synthesising the essence of 20th-century modernism with an optimistic vision of 21st-century creation.

Today Lindberg writes for more or less standard orchestral forces, where an instrumental soloist is introduced only occasionally, a singer or chorus never. In this respect Gran Duo, commissioned by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Royal Festival Hall as part of the final year of the decade-long Towards the Millennium project, is an exception as it is scored for an orchestra consisting of the 13 wind and 11 brass instruments of the full orchestra. This instrumentation, very rarely found in the symphonic repertoire, finds its exemplar in Stravinsky, being almost identical with that of the revised version of the Symphonies of Wind Instruments (the only difference being the introduction of a bass clarinet that Lindberg could not do without).

Gran Duo: the title, making an allusion to Gran Partita by Mozart, suggests that we are dealing with a 'big piece'. As a starting point, Lindberg takes the dualism inherent in the ensemble: the high and tight playing of the winds; the lower, softer timbres of the brass. The clear distinction between the two species of the ensemble (the feminine and masculine worlds) soon disappears, but the polarity comes out in many different ways, even within the musical material itself.

Lindberg's individual works often form a continuum, and here, too, the new piece develops ideas employed in the previous one. Cantigas, a big orchestral work premièred by the Cleveland Orchestra in 1999, uses the same structural principles apparent in Gran Duo. In relation to some of his earlier works Lindberg has spoken about his 'chaconne technique', where a harmonic sequence is repeated over and over again in changing surroundings. In Gran Duo and Cantigas, it is more a question of different characters that succeed each other in accelerating and decelerating tempos. In the course of the 18-minute duration of Gran Duo, there are some 20 cycles or sets of eight characters that each have their own tempo. The tempo is at its slowest at the beginning of each cycle, gets faster and then slows down close to the basic tempo. Each textural character has a tempo specific to it whenever it appears; other aspects of the music change and develop regardless of this skeleton which keeps the construction of the work together. This is hidden in such a way that one cannot necessarily recognise every entry.

Stravinsky used the expression 'Symphonies' in the original sense, 'sounding together'. It is in fact Lindberg who might have called his piece 'symphony' in the 20th-century meaning of the word, so clear is the dramaturgical cohesion of the work. One can perceive five main movements in this piece, to be played without a break. The first movement goes through the basic set eight times before leading to a slow movement, including a lamento section, followed a moment later by the third movement, a motoric one starting as a kind of toccata and leading to a lighter, more playful scherzo. The fourth movement is the high point of the work. It starts with a bass clarinet solo whipped along by contrasting sforzando beats. This leads to a climax which is achieved by simplifying the texture to maximise the effect. There follows a transitional section of pure timbral music and a solo for a 'super flute' consisting of the three flutes of the orchestra. The final movement is a short one, as in Aura, the different ideas of the piece are drawn together with surprising harmonic changes, including a short allusion to a harmonic progression from Sibelius' Tapiola. Gran Duo ends peacefully in a relaxed chorale: balance has been found between the different elements of the duo.

© Risto Nieminen, 2000


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Works for Wind Orchestra


City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, cond. Sir Simon Rattle, London, March 8, 2000.

Commisioned by / dedications

Commissioned by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Royal Festival Hall Millennium.

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